Newcastle United could be set to lift its ban on three north-east Trinity Mirror titles following recent talks, according to the publisher’s new editor of football, fan engagement and sports development, Mal Robinson.
Robinson told The Drum that while Trinity Mirror didn’t consider rebuilding a relationship with Newcastle United as “crucial”, he revealed the publisher has been in talks with the club and he was hopeful that a working relationship would soon be an option.
The fallout between the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and Newcastle United came last October after the Chronicle’s coverage of fan protests against owner Mike Ashley’s leadership.
The club subsequently banned the Chronicle and fellow Trinity Mirror titles The Journal and Sunday Sun from media access to players and club facilities, and faced heavy criticism from national media outlets and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) over the decision.
The bitter dispute saw the Newcastle Evening Chronicle run a “banned but not gagged” front page splash in which the paper pledged to “keep telling the truth”.
Almost a year later, Robinson said the titles had been able to keep up sports coverage and find ways to report around the ban, but that moving forward he hoped to regain club access.
“We’ve had dialogue with the club, and don’t get me wrong we want to get on board with the club, because obviously the local community is on board with it,” he said.
“It’s not vital that we get them on board but it’s always handy to have a partnership with the football club. The dialogue is ongoing at the moment, it’s a work in progress.
“As has been proved over the course of a year now, it’s not crucial that we have access to the club. We’ve created content away from the club, spoken to former legends instead of current players, things like that, so we’ve kind of negotiated our way around a minefield so to speak, and we’ve proved we can do it. But obviously it helps if the club’s on board and we’re seen to be working together for the community.”
He added: “With not having access to the club, even just buying match tickets on a match day has been a problem. It has been difficult but the lads have embraced it.
“It [access] helps logistically. It’s [the ban] a little bit of a hindrance, but they have overcome the obstacles.”
Robinson said talks would likely progress after the close of the football transfer window at the beginning of September.
“I would certainly point the finger towards the talks progressing after the transfer window,” he said. “Fingers crossed, we can get the professional relationship back up as it was before.”
However, Robinson added rebuilding a relationship with the club would not affect Trinity Mirror titles’ coverage, and said last year’s dispute was over copy produced by the main news desks, not the sports desk.
“We are going to retain our independent voice whether we’re back on board or not,” he said.
Robinson begins his newly-created role officially next week but told The Drum he has spent his time recently laying the groundwork for his position and working on a strategy to build the papers’ social media fan engagement.
Among its social channels, the Chronicle runs Newcastle United and Sunderland FC Facebook fan pages, and he said he hopes to significantly increase the numbers on the pages and overall social interaction.
Robinson was previously editor-in-chief of Media73, where he helped launch retro football magazines.
The Drum was awaiting a response from Newcastle United FC at time of publication.